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Sylvia Poggioli, 20 Years on NPR
Correspondent's Foreign Reporting Earns Praise, Renown

click for more Hear a selection of Poggioli's reports, selected by NPR editors

audio icon Poggioli speaks live with Neil Conan on Talk of the Nation

Sylvia Poggioli
Sylvia Poggioli addresses a 1996 conference of broadcasters.
Photo: Steve Wunrow

Detail from Zippy the Pinhead
Detail from July 30, 2001 Zippy the Pinhead strip
View the entire strip

Zippy Loves Sylvia!

Cartoonist Bill Griffith and his comic creation, Zippy, both are Poggioli fans, as illustrated in this July 30, 2001 comic strip. Says Griffith: "Not only does Zippy love to chant Sylvia Poggioli's mellifluous moniker like a mantra, but he considers her reports from Belgrade and Rome to be indispensable."

'Slandering' Sylvia
on Car Talk

Tom and Ray Magliozzi, public radio's Car Talk guys, frequently take Poggioli's name in vain on their show.

Listen Hear a typical Poggioli quip from the Car Talk guys.

Listen ...and another quip.

Listen ...and still another one.

Car Talk listener Larry Albertelli took issue with the Magliozzi brothers invoking Poggioli's name, in a letter that said in part: "When Sylvia Poggioli accidentally tunes in an NPR station when you two clowns are on, she most definitely does not shake her head and say, 'Mamma mia!' That is just too naive. A woman of the world like Sylvia Poggioli slaps herself on the forehead, raises her outstretched hand heavenward shaking it emphatically and exclaims, 'Porca miseria! Ma chi sono questi cafoni?!' So, the next time you attempt to slander the poor woman's reputation, think twice about this much more likely reaction."

click for more Read a translation of Albertelliís text.

Sylvia Poggioli
Poggioli in Cairo in 1994 for a U.N. population conference.
Photo: NPR News

Sept. 4, 2002 -- In the realm of NPR "out cues" -- the signoffs at the end of radio reports -- none other has quite the same lilt:

"Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News."

Sylvia Poggioli -- the musical name, and the veteran reporter behind it -- was heard on NPR for the first time 20 years ago today. On the Sept. 4, 1982, edition of All Things Considered, then-freelancer Poggioli reported on the Mafia killing of a high-ranking police officer in Palermo, Sicily.

In the two decades since, Poggioli has brought NPR listeners hundreds of reports from spots around the globe, including Europe, the Balkans and the Middle East. Her coverage has encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the civil war in the former Yugoslavia and the papacy of John Paul II.

Now NPR's senior European correspondent, she has earned some of journalism's top awards. And along the way, much to Poggioli's surprise, her name has entered the popular lexicon, invoked by far-flung fans from the Car Talk brothers to the cartoon character Zippy the Pinhead.

NPRís Scott Simon once asked Poggioli about her name recognition -- some even would say her cult status -- among public radio listeners. Poggioliís response: "You know, the fact that my name is known, it still always shocks me. Because I always think that the Italian phone lines are so incredibly bad that I never even think that my stories get across the Atlantic, but drown in the ocean somewhere."

As avid listeners and admiring colleagues can attest, Poggioli's vivid news accounts and evocative feature stories definitely do make it across the Atlantic. "When I travel around the country, public radio listeners always ask me about Sylvia Poggioli," says Jay Kernis, Senior Vice President for Programming. "Who is she? What does she look like?' And then the inevitable remark follows: 'I just love the way she says her name.'

"But I think what listeners respond to most is what she has brought to the air," Kernis says. "Sylvia brings public radio listeners incisive and sensitive reporting that makes sense of complicated issues. But listeners also perceive her as a real person who wants to know why things happened the way they happened and why people believe what they believe.

"The people she interviews trust her -- and I know that millions of public radio listeners do also. We know Sylvia from her lyric reporting on Italy; but we also know Sylvia by the courage, tenacity and insight she brought to coverage of the Balkans in its most dangerous days. I'm not sure I'd want to face some of the characters and situations she's encountered, but I think we are all glad that she does."

Below, a selection of memorable Poggioli stories from the past 20 years, chosen by NPR editors:

Listen Sept. 4, 1982 -- Hear Poggioli's first report for NPR, on a crackdown in Italy on Mafia violence.

Listen Sept. 1, 1990 -- Hear a 1990 Scott Simon interview with the owner of an Oregon restaurant named after Sylvia Poggioli.

Listen Aug. 7, 1992 -- In this Peabody Award-winning report, Poggioli reports on the brutal conditions endured by Bosnian Muslims in Serbian "detention camps," and first-person accounts of murder, rape and starvation of civilians at the hands of Serb forces.

Listen March 13, 1993 -- Poggioli reports from Zagreb on the psychological scars -- and newborn babies -- resulting from mass rapes of Muslim women by Serbian forces in Bosnia.

Listen Aug. 9, 1995 -- Poggioli describes scenes of desperation and pandemonium across Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia as tens of thousands of Serb refugees flee a Croatian offensive on the Krajina.

Listen May 26, 1997 -- Poggioli reports on the strong and growing separatist sentiment in Venice and its wealthy surrounding provinces. Some citizens of the Veneto region resent the taxes they pay to the central government in Rome, which go not for works in northern Italy but for the impoverished southern parts of the country.

Listen Dec. 7, 1997 -- Poggioli reports on the precious white truffle -- valued at $70 an ounce -- and the spate of poaching and murders of truffle sniffing dogs that have become part of the business.

Listen March 10, 2000 -- Poggioli reports from Parma, Italy, known for prosciutto ham and, of course, Parmesan cheese. Many believe the secret to the region's sublime food is its clean environment.

Listen April 1, 2001 -- Poggioli reviews the career of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, arrested on charges of corruption and abuse of power at his home in Belgrade.

click for more Read Poggioli's response to listeners' anniversary greetings.